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Unions pact with ‘Empire’

Producers sign deals after picketing

Producers of “Empire,” the circus-variety show that recently set up shop in midtown Manhattan, have signed labor contracts with four legit unions after members picketed the production.

The circus/cabaret/burlesque show, presented under the Spiegelworld banner by producers Ross Mollison and David J. Foster, began perfs May 22 with no labor agreements in place, which unions took as an insult given the show’s location in the theater district, where so many of the unions’ members are employed. (The 440-seat tent is classified as Off Broadway, where union jurisdiction is more piecemeal than it is on Broadway.)

Unions picketing the show included IATSE Local One, the Gotham stagehands org that shut down much of the Rialto in a 2007 labor dispute, as well as the American Guild of Variety Artists, the theatrical teamsters and the IATSE branch of box office workers.

According to leadership of both Local One and AGVA, “Empire” producers had abruptly stopped communicating with the unions following an initial round of discussions. Producers had pushed back against the unions with a statement that implied that doling out union wages would require a concomitant rise in ticket pricing. Nonetheless, Mollison and Foster reached a tentative agreement with the unions May 26, with contract all signed by May 29.

Show is set to play through the summer, with the tent set to fold Sept. 2.

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